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When Pilgrims Became Pioneers

Then God blessed them, and God said to them,
"Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it;
have dominion over the fish of the sea,
over the birds of the air,
and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
Genesis 1:28

A pilgrim is a person who makes a journey, which is often long and difficult, to a special place for religious reasons.

A pioneer is one who ventures into an unknown or unclaimed territory to settle. He goes before to remove obstructions for the purpose of opening up or preparing the way for others.

When pilgrims became pioneers, they might also become the founding fathers of those nations.

Abraham was a pilgrim who became a pioneer. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called by God to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. He was waiting and looking for the city which has foundations, and whose Builder and Maker is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).

Following the same example of their forefather, Abraham, the Israelites also made a pilgrimage. The Promised Land was pioneered by a people who were pilgrims. They were ordinary people. They were also very poor slaves, tolling daily to build treasure cities for the Pharaoh in Egypt. Through a deliverer sent by God, they made a spiritual journey to meet their God in His holy mountain. They also did not know where they were going and how to get there. The Spirit of God was leading them all the way by day and by night! Through many adventures and misadventures, many victories and failures, they finally entered their own land forty years later.

These Israelites were not ambitious people desiring to conquer their enemies or winning the whole world. They were afraid of giants in the land. They were just common people seeking a place where they could find peace and rest to start life anew for their families. Because the LORD was with them, they were able to overcome their fears and enemies. They were also able to reach their destination and enjoy freedom. In their pilgrimage, they became pioneers of the nation of Israel! The spiritual laws, which the LORD gave them, became the legal terms and conditions of living in the Holy Land! They multiplied because they were fruitful, and not because they were ambitious, full of drive and zeal! They were fruitful because they obeyed the LORD!

By no coincidence, America is also a land opened, settled and developed by pilgrims and pioneers. Some of the pioneers of America were very poor pilgrims from England. They were called the Pilgrims. These people were a group of Christians in search of a home where they could freely practice their faith, and live according to their Biblical beliefs and standards.

The Pilgrims were also known as the Separatists or the Saints. They had separated from the Church of England. The king of England was the only supreme head of the Church of England. As a result of this, in England, those who did not belong to the king’s Church were often put in jail. Therefore the Separatists decided to break away from the Church of England. They felt that the Church had not completed the task begun by the Reformation that "the just shall live by faith." They felt there was no need to have priests or bishops. They believed that ordinary members of the church could speak directly to God.

Under the guidance of their leaders, Reverends William Brewster and Richard Clifton, a group of them left their homes in Scrooby. They sailed to Amsterdam to escape persecutions by their own countrymen. They eventually moved to Leiden in Holland where they lived for 12 years. Though they had religious freedom, the Separatists became concerned that their children were growing up to become more Dutch than English. In 1617, being discouraged by economic difficulties, the pervasive Dutch influence on their children, and their inability to secure civil independence, the congregation voted to move on to cross the Atlantic Ocean into the New World.

Fewer than half of the congregation in Leiden chose to leave the Netherlands. They went aboard the Speedwell and sailed to Southampton. In England, they were joined by a larger group of Separatists. A total of 102 people boarded the Mayflower, a small cargo ship, to cross the Atlantic Ocean. About half on board were the Separatists. The rest of the passengers were called "Strangers" by the Pilgrims. Among the Strangers were merchants, craftsmen, skilled workers and indentured servants, and several young orphans. All of them were common people.

The Pilgrims were the ones who organized the voyage. William Brewster and some leaders of the Pilgrims had secured the rights to settle on a piece of land claimed by the Virginia Company near the mouth of the Hudson River. To raise funds for the voyage, the Pilgrims signed a contract with a group of stockholders in London. In return for their investment, these stockholders would share in the profits of the planned colony. The Pilgrims promised to ship furs, fish and lumber back to them in England. To increase their chances of success for their new venture, the Pilgrims included the Strangers in their journey.

Thirty two of the passengers were children and youths. The departure date of the Mayflower was September 16, 1620. The journey was long. It took the ship 65 days to sail from England to America. In those days, merchant ships were not built for the comfort of their passengers. There were no passenger cabins. They had to sleep in hammocks. Accommodation was bad. Personal living spaces were limited to just barely enough room for each person to lay down or sleep.

The cargo and food provisions were loaded in England. There was no refrigeration or electricity. Whatever little and fresh food they had brought for the journey were quickly consumed. They had to eat hard bread and dried meat that were wet and moldy. They also ate onions and lemon juice to keep themselves from getting scurvy. Throughout most of the voyage, hunger haunted them.

The ship was overcrowded, always wet and smelly. It was grossly unsanitary. There was an unhealthy accumulation of repeated vomitings, dysentery, sweat, mildew and rotting waste. The lower decks were even worse. The stench was almost unbearable.

There was no proper place to change or wash clothes. The passengers suffered from many kinds of inflictions and afflictions due to ill-preserved food and provisions, constipation, headaches, lice, impure water, seasickness and emotional fatigue. On the top of all these, the weather conditions were merciless. Cold temperatures, storms and intense heat were constantly battering at them throughout the whole raging journey!

Death was a steadfast companion. Two of the passengers died on the voyage across the Atlantic. But two babies were birthed aboard the ship.

Burial at sea was a difficult and trying experience. The bereaved family members did not have enough time to grieve and mourn. The bodies of the deceased must be cast overboard almost immediately after the time of their death to prevent the spread of disease and foul odour. Family members often reproached each other for making the journey. Wives reproached their husbands for children that were lost. Husbands lamented heartbreakingly for endangering the lives of their own families by boarding the ship. Children complained against their own parents for their state of helplessness. The level of despair and misery was unbelievable. The sea did not allow the family members to return to the exact burial locations for memorials and remembrances. Another traumatic reality was that the bodies would be eaten by some fishes and sea creatures.

The 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic lasted more than two months. The Mayflower was blown off course by storms. They finally sighted land on November 19, 1620. But the ship was at Cape Cod, far north of their destination. Therefore, the captain turned the Mayflower southwards. But the rough seas forced him to turn back. The Mayflower eventually dropped anchor at the tip of Cape Cod. To avoid risking more days at sea, the Pilgrims decided to land at Provincetown on November 21, 1620.

Almost immediately upon arrival, an argument broke out. Several of the Strangers were discontented and rebellious. They apparently argued that, since the Cape Cod area was outside the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company, its original rules and regulations no longer applied. These troublemakers threatened to do whatever they pleased as there was none who had the power to command them. Three thousand miles from home, a real crisis hit the Pilgrims even before they stepped ashore.

The Pilgrim leaders realized that they needed to set up a temporary form of government and authority. Back home, such authority could only come from the king of England. Being isolated in America, they had to decide for themselves. Still aboard the Mayflower, by the demand of necessity, the Pilgrims and Strangers made a written agreement or compact among themselves.

The Mayflower Compact was probably composed by William Brewster, who had a university education. It was duly signed by 41 men, including two of the indentured servants. The format of the Mayflower Compact was very similar to the written agreements used by the Pilgrims to establish their Separatist churches in England and Holland. Under these agreements, the male adult members of each church established how they were to worship God, how they were to elect their own ministers and other church officers etc..

This pattern of self-government in the church served as a model for self-government in the colony. It eventually became the very foundation of establishing law and order in America. Born out of necessity on the Mayflower, the Compact made a significant contribution to the creation of a new democratic nation.

These early colonists had no intention of declaring their independence from England when they signed the Mayflower Compact. In the opening line of the Compact, both the Pilgrims and Strangers declared themselves accordingly as the loyal subjects of King James. The agreement was simple and short, binding the signers to become a civil body of people, enjoying just and equal laws for the general good of the colony.

On December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims began a new colony, which is known today as the Town of Plymouth in Massachusetts. This day also marks the Forefathers' Day in America.

Their first winter was very hard. The weather was extremely cold. There was not enough food. As a result of poor nutrition, harsh conditions and inadequate housing, about half of the settlers died in the new land that bitter winter.

Help arrived in the spring. An Indian named Samoset walked into their little colony and said, "Welcome, Englishmen." Samoset was a member of the Wampanoag tribe. He had learned some English from sailors who had come to fish along the Cape Cod coast.

Several days later, Samoset brought another Indian, Squanto, to meet the Pilgrims. Squanto could speak better English than Samoset. Years earlier, Squanto had been kidnapped by a group of European fishermen. He was sold as a slave in Spain. But he managed to escape to England where he learned the English language. Several years later, he returned to his Wampanoag tribe in Cape Cod.

Squanto lived with the Pilgrims and became their interpreter. He showed them how to survive in the new climate by employing the native Indian ways and methods. He showed them where to fish. He also taught them how to use the fishes and their bones as fertilizers for planting corn, pumpkins and beans. Through him, the Pilgrims established friendly relations with the local Wampanoag tribe.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims had their first harvest. William Bradford was then the Governor of the Colony. He decided that the Colony should have a celebration to mark their first harvest. The Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag Indians to their first Thanksgiving. The celebration lasted three days. They feasted on turkeys, venison, fish, ducks, clams, shellfish, oysters, lobsters, corn puddings, pumpkins, dried berries and other local edibles. Nine women prepared the three-day feast for 140 hungry people.

Today, 35 million Americans are direct descendants of the first Mayflower Pilgrims. That's about 12% of the total population of the whole nation of America. These Pilgrims had given birth to many pioneers who cut through the forests and rocky mountains to build highways and railroads, the runways for airplanes, the towering skyscrapers, and also the rockets into space.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

God still uses ordinary people to achieve His extraordinary purposes. This is the time for us, pilgrims and strangers, to make our pilgrimages in seeking Him, His kingdom and His righteousness. The key to the greatest revival of all times and the greatest harvest of souls is through the Way, the Truth and the Life.

In John 12:32, Jesus said:

"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."

When Jesus is lifted up, He will draw all peoples unto Himself! The success is dependent on our fruitfulness as we abide in Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, no matter how hard we strive and how well we plan! If we are healthy, we will be fruitful. If we are fruitful, we will automatically multiply! In His perfect timing and by His Spirit, of course!

Written on:
19 October 2004